This is a guest post from writer Anna Ryan. She is an Australian expat, currently based in NYC. She aspires to explore as much of the USA as possible whilst living there, sharing her travel stories along the way. You can read about her experiences here and here.
The first time I visited my home country of Australia, after living in New York City for almost two years, I felt terrible. It had been a long, cold winter in New York. My hair was dull, my skin pale. It was February, the middle of summer in Australia. Everyone I saw seemed so tanned and relaxed and beautiful. I felt immediately out of place.
I had expected I would feel excited going home to see my friends and family. But when the plane landed at Sydney airport, I didn’t feel much excitement. The airport was just as I remembered it, which felt strangely disappointing. I think I was expecting it to have changed somehow, as my own life had undergone a monumental shift. I had moved to a new country, spent almost a year out of full time work, and thrown myself into an intense period of study to advance my career. I had dealt with the challenges of adapting to life in a new country, making new friends as an adult, and financial difficulties.
It felt a surreal, to be back in Sydney, my birthplace and residence for 26 years. It was so familiar, but it was not currently my home. The Australian accents sounded harsh and loud, and it was odd to be relying on cars again to get around. My parents’ place in the suburbs seemed more isolated than ever. My boyfriend and I became a combination of teenager and gypsy; relying on our parents to drive us everywhere, while also lugging our overnight bags around everywhere we went, as we stayed with different family members and friends, trying to visit everyone. Not having a regular place to stay made me feel like a tourist in my home country. Life in Sydney felt difficult, small town-ish and lackluster.
Despite all of this, I loved spending time with my friends and family again. My trip was short, just under two weeks, and at the end I felt guilty for not spending enough quality time with everyone, especially my parents. They dropped me off at the airport, and we all teared up a little bit, saying goodbye again. I knew I wasn’t ready to come home just yet. I had barely found my feet after one year in New York. I needed to see where my new life would take me.
I arrived back in New York to freezing temperatures, but it felt good to be “home”, back in my apartment and back to a more regular routine. But nothing about living in New York is regular.
When I moved here with my boyfriend for his job, we viewed the relocation as a temporary experience, intending only to stay for two to three years. I’m sure this is how every ex-pat starts out, as it is too difficult to imagine permanently leaving. Especially when home is Australia, a stable, peaceful country, where the lifestyle is comfortable and easy.
New York, much like any big city, is full of transplants and transients, not just from other countries, but from all over the US. That was one of the biggest surprises to me, when I first moved here. Almost no one I met was originally from New York.
This fact has led to one of my biggest struggles in New York, by far: making friends. It is hard to admit this. When I moved to New York, I knew I would need to make an effort to meet people, but I honestly never had to try making friends before. New friendships happened organically. I hadn’t realized how lucky I was to have a close and stable group of friends, until I didn’t have one. I knew no one when I first arrived in New York.
Many ex-pats will talk about the first few painful months of “friend dating” when you relocate to a new place. I would somewhat awkwardly reach out to strangers I had been introduced to, and ask them for a drink. Some I would hit it off with. Others, I was unsure about, but I tried to turn it into something, which usually failed after a few months. Some people I met and I thought everything went well, but they didn’t have the room or the time for a new friend in their life.
This struggle has never really gone away. Many of the friends I made in my first year, do not live in New York anymore. I often feel like I am starting over, meeting new people, trying to see if acquaintances can become friends, trying to reconnect with people I’ve lost touch with. Of course, this is also one of the beauties of New York – the opportunity to meet new and interesting people. I am grateful for this. I have also made several close friends over the years. But, it can be exhausting. And, lonely.
So, I was excited when I went back to Sydney for my second visit home, a bit over a year later. It was a cure for my loneliness. I had negotiated an arrangement where I could work remotely for a month, allowing me to attend two weddings of close friends. Yet again, when the plane touched down in Sydney, it didn’t feel right. I wasn’t as excited as I thought I should be. I was anxious. I was anxious because I felt that in the year between visits, everything had changed. Two of my best friends were about to get married. I had missed birthdays and engagement parties and housewarmings.
Life was moving on in Sydney, but I was not moving with it. At least not in the same direction. I was living in New York; working, partying, traveling – all experiences I wouldn’t change for the world – but I somehow felt like a failure. I didn’t feel ready for marriage or a house or children. I liked my life in New York, where it was acceptable for people in their late 20s and 30s to not be settled. But was I just living in a Peter Pan world, refusing to grow up?
After a month of living in Sydney on my second visit home, I started to settle back into the pace of Sydney life and the comfort of having my family and friends close by. But working remotely in a different time zone was challenging, and I couldn’t wait to get back to my office in New York, mainly for the daily social interaction. I missed the buzz of the city, the convenience of having everything at my fingertips. I also missed my friends in New York.
I felt that I didn’t truly belong in Sydney anymore, but New York wasn’t exactly home, either. I was torn between two places; connected and disconnected to both at the same time. Connected to Sydney by my old friends and family; connected to New York by my new friends and my job.
My third and most recent trip home felt different. I was relaxed. I wasn’t anxious about the fact that two of my best friends were about to have children and that I was still unmarried and would not be having children anytime soon. I accepted the fact that I am on a different path. I do feel like something shifted, though. Life in Sydney seemed a little more appealing. It seemed easier, familiar. I came back to New York and felt so homesick for the first week, I was already planning my next trip back. But of course, after that first week, my New York life was back in full swing. It is so much a part of who I am.
It is difficult to reconcile these two lives. Whichever place I am in at the time, my “other” life feels like a distant memory. I could slot right back into the life I left in Sydney. But whenever I land in LAX after a visit to Australia, I take comfort in the bossy TSA officers and their brash American accents. Of course, I still get sudden waves of homesickness for Australia, often on obscure and insignificant days. On some days, I can’t imagine giving up my life in New York. I’m not sure I will ever feel ready to leave, but I know the time will come. I often think about moving again, to a new city. London, San Francisco, Hong Kong. It’s as if I have been permanently uprooted, always looking for the next adventure.
Such is the life of an ex-pat; a nomad with no home.
Thanks to Anna for this beautiful post.